Pre-pub, Writing

5 Tips for Surviving Your Debut Year

It’s been over five weeks since my debut novel The Perfect Assassin came out into the world and I’ve been spending most of that time decompressing. Relaxing. Reading. Sleeping (!), even, when the Toddler allows.

But me being me, I’ve also been thinking about the past year – and beyond. It’s been a bit of a wild ride and goodness, am I glad it’s over. I wasn’t sure whether or not the other side of Being Published, No For Real My Book’s On That Table Over There would feel much different from pre-pub, and it didn’t for the first few days/weeks, but now that things have settled a bit and the confetti’s turned to dust, it does feel different.

More chill, for one. More concrete, for another.

I lived with a lot of anxiety last year, which seems obvious in retrospect but kinda hit me like an invisible bus at the time. Of course I was going to be in a state of perpetual worry when I had no idea what was going on or what to expect and I didn’t want to trip over my own feet and make an absolute fool of myself.

The debut year is a lot like that first day at a new job, when you’re not sure what their version of business casual is (are sleeves necessary? can I wear boots??), whose desk is where (Carol in HR to whom I must return this important form: WHERE ARE YOU), whether or not you should bring silverware (is there even a sink?), where the stairwell is (what about this door – nope: brooms), who takes a lunch and when, or – most importantly – what you’re actually supposed to be doing.

You’re hecka excited to be there – of course! it’s a new job!! you applied and interviewed and hoped for this!!! – but those first few days you come home exhausted and overwhelmed. You don’t even know what you don’t know and everyone else just seems so much more competent and on it. And you know making mistakes is just a part of the learning process, but every one of them feels like a personal failure.

Yeah, exactly like those first few days, but stretched over a year.

It makes sense that on the other side, things might be a lot more chill and relaxed. Sure, there’re still a lot of things to worry about, but just knowing what those things are brings the anxiety down to a reasonable amount. The road might yet be windy and full of fog, but I’ve come far enough that I know it’s a road and, well, that can be enough.

Also now I know where Carol is.

So here, from the other side of things, are five tips for surviving your own debut year:

1. Find your tribe.
I’m putting this first because it’s just that important. Join a debut group. Go on Twitter and find other baby or recently published authors. Find your agent siblings, your editor cousins. Follow them. Read their blogs, their posts, their tweets.

More importantly: talk to them. Embrace them. Support them and let them support you.

I’ve been a part of Debut Authors ’19 since the very beginning and they’ve been a lifesaver. Every time I felt like I was going crazy, I had a place I could check in where I knew they wouldn’t judge me. And that’s important – getting an agent, a contract, is kind of a privileged thing, right? It’s cool and amazing and awesome. But it’s a bit like suddenly owning a dragon. It’s super cool and not very common but also who are you going to talk to when it starts eating the neighboring village’s sheep??

That said, there are downsides to being in a debut group. You do get to see all the possibilities of publishing, some of which you never would have dreamed of. And seeing them, you know better than to dream, but you do, a little. If you’re a competitive type, the comparison game can become overwhelming. And even if you’re not competitive, it’s hard not to see something cool and wonder “why not?”

(The answer to this is, of course, because That Is Not Your Book. Your book is different and unique and other things will happen for it, many you can’t even imagine now.)

There’s something to be said for being able to go through the whole debut process in blissful ignorance of those other possibilities. But then, the community you build in those groups is a community that will persist for years after. These are your peers, your colleagues, your coworkers, your friends. I’m ride or die for a number of them, and there’s nothing sweeter than cheering on a friend’s success – or yelling loudly about how great they are.

That community is priceless.

2. Be kind.
Be kind in your words. Be kind in your actions. Be aware that someone, somewhere, is looking up to you as a Real Author. Your actions will carry more weight, whether it’s encouragement or a review or a smile emoji. Ignoring that weight isn’t being humble – it’s doing that person a disservice.

So be kind. Be thoughtful. Be the kind of person you’d want to meet and the kind of person you want in your community.

3. It’s okay to feel other emotions than excitement or elation.
We humans are complex and contradictory creatures. We are also highly predictable. You are the same person you were yesterday, and a book deal doesn’t change that. It can certainly be validating, but you’re still you and your life is still your life.

And that means every day ain’t gonna be a complete picnic.

In fact, sometimes it could be worse, because you might have a little voice in the back of your head berating you for being tired, exhausted, depressed, or just generally blah when you have so much to be grateful for and excited about.

But if anything, you should allow yourself even more leeway for extreme emotions on both sides of the spectrum, because this is something you have been working toward for years and decades, because this is something you care deeply about. The fact that you get a bit overwhelmed or upset or worried sometimes isn’t a failure – it means you are thoroughly and completely invested. It means that this is important to you.

4. Excitement is physiologically indistinguishable from fear.
And it’s just as exhausting.

Both fear and excitement cause a spike in adrenaline, which rushes through your system causing your hands to shake and your pulse to elevate and 100+ other stress responses to occur. And there is a lot of excitement as you get to see your cover, as other authors start reading your words, as you start seeing your book on lists and in reviews.

I was really confused at first why an amazing email or bit of news would cause me to short-circuit and need some downtown, but after realizing it’s that same shock of adrenaline you get when you’re scared, it made a lot more sense.

Enjoy, but also remember to take care of yourself. It’s a lot.

5. This is only the beginning of your career.
There’s a lot of waiting and waiting and… waiting… when you’re a debut. Case in point, I signed my contract in 2016 and my book didn’t come out until 2019. So I get it – it can feel like you’ve been at this a while, and it can also feel like everything has been done and it’s all over once you actually hit pub date.

But in reality, it’s only the very start. You did the equivalent of a PhD program and survived, which is no small feat, but you’re only just now entering the job market and the beginning of your career.

Everything you do now is another step along that path and it will take you places you have never been before and you will meet so many new and amazing people.

Just keep your feet on the warm stones and move forward.

Bonus: One thing I wish I could tell myself a year ago.
Find a therapist. Now. Find a psychiatrist, too, and get yourself on anxiety medication. It’ll make a world of difference. You’re welcome.

Aside from that, I would tell her it’s fine. It’s going to be fine. Feel all the feels, wallow in the emotions, take a walk, take a run, take a hike – and keep writing.

7 thoughts on “5 Tips for Surviving Your Debut Year”

  1. This echoes a lot of my experience. I especially like the metaphor of the dragon; it’s super true. I talk to friends who aren’t writers, and they’re very supportive, but most of them don’t really get it like other writers do. And sadly, I’m finding that other writers who haven’t yet got the dragon kind of don’t get how stressful it is, which leads to misunderstandings.

  2. I loved this. I felt so blindsided by It all. I never knew owning a dragon would be so stressful, after all, it’s what I always wanted, so where are all these feels coming from! You said it very well.

    1. Dragons are so cool!! And everyone else in the village has always wanted one, so once you get one, you really don’t want to talk about how dragons also have a lot of maintenance and oh man, polishing those scales is such a *chore*.
      So you gotta find other dragon owners. ‘Tis a fact.

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